• Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
sunshine & unicorns: a blog about love, learning, and life in the upper midwest

01 July 2008

breathe out so I can breathe you in

The post in which P.H. dusts off her soapbox and climbs back up on it, actually 'blogging' with a less than 'cheese sandwich' tone for the first time in godknowshowlong. And no photo either. Go fig!

A while back, I was reading an article about lasting marriages and relationship issues. If I could find it now I'd link it here, but I can't (sorry!). Several of the couples interviewed, and the experts who gave their advice, swore by various books written for couples. One of them was "The Hard Questions: 100 Questions to Ask Before You Say 'I Do'". Another was "Before You Say I Do: Important Questions for Couples to Ask Before Marriage". Other books mentioned, along the same lines, included "1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married" and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Now, I don't have a wedding in the works or anything (don't freak out, friends!) but I was interested in what a book like this would have to offer: what profound secrets would it share? Could its teachings be applied to any serious couple? I tucked the subject away in my brain for later revisitation.

Then, while browsing books about Photoshop tips over the weekend, I noticed that Barnes & Noble's Relationships section is right near their Computer section. Bf and I decided to skim through a few of the books above and some others with similar subject matter. (A skim through "Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes" provided some interesting perspectives, some with serious basis, and others quite stereotypical & therefore entertaining for us.) So what profound relationship-nurturing advice did we find? Well... sorry to disappoint. As with many 'self help' books, these books merely offer common sense. (Too fat? Eat less. Smoke too much? Stop it. Always in debt? Quit buying things you can't afford. Want to get married? Get to know your fiancé.)

These books read like they are written for people who have never had a serious conversation with their boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé. Topics covered include work, home, money, family, finances, culture/religion/spirituality, and intimacy. The shorter books have a chapter on each item. The longer books are the same line, but cover those items in terms of questions, instead of chapters. To quote from Amazon.com, the '1001 Questions' book (linked above) includes questions like "Do you both want children?" and "How important is religion in your life?". To paraphrase 'The Hard Questions' (again, linked above), I recall it containing questions such as "Describe our home. The interior? It's geographic location?" and "What is our sense of style?" And "Who will handle the finances?"

I'm not saying these aren't important questions. They ARE. You'd BETTER know these things before you get married. What scares me is the idea that there are possibly lots of people out there who are at the point of marriage, and who don't know these things about their relationship/partner. Bf and I have been dating for less than a year, yet were thumbing through these books with thoughts bordering between sarcastic 'OMG' and serious pity.

Question is... if you are getting married, and you don't know these things about someone... What DO you know? What do you two talk about? Talking is what you DO when you first get together, isn't it? You talk about everything, one way or another! I'm no expert; I've only dated a handful of people and until now they have ended (one way or another) in a not-so-hot kind of way. But I would think that ideal dating process goes like this.

1 - Meet someone with something in common. Maybe it is a similar interest or opinion, or other environmental circumstance (you go to the same bar all the time or are in a class together). You find that you can tolerate their attitude/personality and have physical attraction too.

2 - Talk talk talk. You likely don't sit down and cover all the tough questions at once; you learn as you go. Maybe you attend church together and through that and surrounding discussion, you find out about each other's religious views. Maybe you are discussing vacations and find that you've each enjoyed trips to the southeast, and decide you might someday live in Florida together. Maybe the election is coming up and you share political opinions while studying the candidates. Point is, over time, you find out things about someone. If you hit a roadblock and it's unworkable, you start over at step one with someone else.

3 - Step one again, but deeper. As you are together longer, you discover whether you can enjoy this person's company long term. What quirks/habits they have, and whether these things are tolerable, endearing, or unbearable. Then you can go to Barnes & Noble, open up one of these important-questions books, and share a rueful laugh.

Perhaps these books are written for younger couples, but I have to say that looking at my past, my (again, few) breakups have been due to errors with interpretation of my third step. I suppose I've always been a talker. (An informavore, as the cool kids call it.) I'm also a pretty caring person, I think - I am curious and want to know everything about my potential partner. It makes me sad that these books need to exist (and/or that they are labeled as pre-marriage books, rather than beginning-dating books), because I would like to think that people in relationships view the process as I do: an adventure of learning, exploration, and perhaps eventual forever-commitment. That said, it makes me happy that these books *do* exist for those who need them. As I said before, the topics covered are definitely 'need to know' when it comes to coupling up. Additionally, it makes me happy to look at a book of this sort with my loved one: our needlessness for this seemingly simplistic written advice helps affirm that perhaps we are 'doing it right', so far.

(Note: I can't let the availability of numerous books of this type entirely skew my view of the dating/getting-to-know-you process, of course. One also has to entertain the idea that if you can write a book about it, people will buy it regardless of whether they need it. Books like "Facebook: The Missing Manual" are a testament to this.)